The 7 Essential Things to Do in Rome (and 3 NOT to Do!)

Rome has over 900 hundred churches, fifty monumental fountains, seven famous hills, and countless works of art. 

We haven’t even gotten to all the different kinds of pasta and wine and pizza and gelato to try yet. There is a famous saying about Rome that goes Rome, one lifetime is not enough (Roma, non basta un vita.) but hopefully we can help you make the most of your time here with our top things for your first visit to Rome.

There are plenty of things to do in Rome—but also a few things you shouldn't. Our guide will help you differentiate.

7 Things to Do in Rome

1. Throw your coins in the Trevi Fountain

Whether you are superstitious or not it can’t hurt to throw a penny or two into Rome’s most famous fountain, the Fontana di Trevi. The white marble is still gleaming after a twenty-month long restoration undertaken by the Fendi foundation and completed in 2015. All those pennies add up with an estimated 3000 euro’s worth thrown in daily. The money is donated by the city to the charity Caritas. No matter how hot the afternoon or inviting the cool turquoise water looks do not even think about a Dolce Vita style dip. The fine is 500 euros.

Throwing coins into the Trevi Fountain is definitely one of the most iconic things to do in Rome.
Tossing a coin into Rome’s most famous fountain may seem like a touristy thing to do, but it’s for a good cause—toss pennies to your heart’s content! Photo credit: Hayley Salvo

2. Refresh like a local

Look for the gray Nasone water fountains that are scattered all over the historic center. The cold, clear water is constantly flowing and perfectly safe to drink.

Enjoying a drink from one of the ubiquitous Nasone fountains is one of the most refreshing things to do in Rome.
You can’t take a dip in the Trevi Fountain so look for a Nasone with cold flowing water to cool off instead. Photo credit: Bruno

3. Visit so Much More than the Colosseum

You probably already know that the Colosseum is Rome’s most iconic site. The ancient arena has been standing since 80AD. What you may not know is that your ticket to the Colosseum gains you entrance to two additional archeological sites, the Palatine hill and the Roman Forum.  For a few extra euro you can add access to seven more places including the gorgeous frescos in the House of Livia and the video reconstruction of Nero’s Cryptoporticus. 

4. Look Up

There is no arguing that the Sistine Chapel inside the Vatican Museums is magnificent but there are plenty more amazing ceilings in Rome to see. You don’t even have to strain your neck to see the Renaissance frescoes by Giovanni Lanfranco and Domenichino because of the perfectly angled mirror inside Sant’Andrea dell Valle. Give your eyes a break from colorful frescoes and gilded Baroque excess with the more restrained work of Boromini inside the San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane. Admire the instructs mosaics of the chapel of Saint Zeno inside the 9th century Santa Prassede.

5. Weather the Pantheon

Come rain or come shine the Pantheon never fails to disappoint. You can watch the sun move or rain fall through the oculus. One of Rome’s most ancient intact structures its roof is the single largest, unreinforced concrete dome in the entire world. This ancient wonder is still a functioning Catholic church that holds daily mass and holds the tombs of the artists Raphael and of several poets and Italian Kings.

One of the best things to do in Rome is to visit the Pantheon in any kind of weather.
In a city full of ancient monuments, the Pantheon is one of the oldest.

6. Go Underground

Rome is a city of layers. Literally centuries of history and jumbled up on top of each other. To give you a sense of how the city’s has changed think about that the Roman Forum was once street level. There is so much to explore underground in Rome. Centuries of history of a Roman house is recreated with marble fragments brought to life with video re-creations at The Domus Romane di Palazzo Valentina. There may be up to forty catacombs ancient Roman and early Christian underground burial places underneath Rome. Along the Appian Way are he Catacombs of Santa Domitilla, Catacombs of San Callisto and The Catacombs of San Sebastiano. 

7. Walk in the Park

There are lots of green spaces among the churches and cobblestone in Rome. The Villa Borghese has a lake, a zoo, several playgrounds even tiny ponies for children to ride! Visit a neighborhood market or at the Alimentari (deli) and have a picnic lunch on the grass under a tree. This park is also where you will find one of the city’s finest art collections inside the Galleria Borghese

Checking out ancient monuments like the Arch of Septimius Severus is one of our favorite things to do in Rome.
The Arch of Septimius Severus. Photo Credit: Robert Lowe

3 Things NOT to Do in Rome

8. Eat early

Italians are very particular about what you eat and when you eat it. Lunch is from 1:00-3:00pm and it is not easy to find a good restaurant open for dinner before 8:00pm on a summers evening. Plan on gelato and pizza al taglio snacks to ease any hunger pangs. You have surely heard that you can not order a cappuccino after 11:00am. That is only partly true. What is most important is that you don’t order a cappuccino after a meal. Save your cappuccinos for breakfast or late afternoon.

9. Stand in line

If you are visiting Rome from March-November the city will be crowded. Many of the most popular sites have long entrance lines and no shade. Save yourself a long and hot wait and book ahead for as many sites as you can in order to skip the lines in Rome.

10. Sit down

Or do. It really is your choice but know that the price of your coffee or gelato can be dramatically different depending on whether you stand at the bar or sit at a table. Make sure you ask. You are welcome to sit at most Roman fountains and on the famous Spanish Steps but you can not eat or drink there.

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